Eight Unexpected Highlights from the Antiquarian Book Fair


Out of Print


The fifty-eighth New York Antiquarian Book Fair, organized by the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America (ABAA) and the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (ILAB), opened March 8 at the Park Avenue Armory and runs through Sunday.

Some of the items on display include Shakespeare folios and quartos and ephemera, Einstein’s Bible and his letter on “God’s secrets,” a manuscript poem by Jane Austen, Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s copy of the Odyssey, and the four-million-dollar Hamilton Collection, complete with a lock of his hair. There are also far stranger items, such as the “first salad monograph,” an instructional needlepoint from Shakespeare, and a shooting script from the Kurosawa classic Yojimbo.

Here is a deeper look at some of the unique items on view at the fair:


1) Moses Seixas and George Washington:



On August 18, 1790, on behalf of the Newport Jewish congregation (then numbering about three hundred), Moses Seixas welcomed George Washington, expressing support for his administration and hope for his advocacy of religious freedom. Washington’s letter in response, published in the Newport Mercury that September, not only echoed Seixas’s sentiments but also employed much of his rhetoric (indicated below with italics):

The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

This is the only known copy of the earliest obtainable printing of Washington’s letter ($125,000, Seth Kaller, Booth A40).


2) Harriet Taylor Mill and Twenty-Two Other “Women Philosophers”:



Harriet Taylor Mill was the wife of John Stuart Mill and the uncredited coauthor of his foundational book On the Subjection of Women. She is one of the nearly two dozen female “intellectuals of the first order” showcased by Athena Rare Books, which is run by seller William Schaberg (most editions range in the three to four figures; Booth D19).

Athena’s catalogue of “Women Philosophers” includes household names like Mary Wollstonecraft, Margaret Fuller, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and Simone de Beauvoir. Others are less well-known, such as Anna Maria van Schurman (1607–1678), the first woman to attend a European university (she sat behind a curtain, out of view of the men). William Schaberg’s seventeen-year-old assistant and protégée, Lucy Rose DaSilva, wrote more than half the catalogue. Of psychoanalyst and author Lou Andreas-Salomé, she writes, “It is all too easy to define her by the men she entranced.” Andreas-Salomé was Rilke’s lover, the object of Nietzsche’s persistent affection, and Freud’s first female student of psychoanalysis, but her works reveal her revolutionary independence. DaSilva appreciates these physical objects and their back stories as opportunities to “humanize our gods.” She found a book at Athena (an inscribed volume of Nietzsche) she wanted to “take home and hug.” This is how young collectors are born.


3) From the Collection of:


Many historic collections are in evidence at this year’s book fair. Here are just a few examples:



Frances Mary Richardson Currer (1785–1861) amassed twenty thousand volumes in her lifetime, partially through inheritance but primarily through devotion and insight. Dispersed at Sotheby’s in 1862, pieces of that collection still appear on the market. Currer’s copy of The Comedies of Aristophanes (1820, 1822) with her engraved bookplate is on sale at the fair ($1,250, Honey and Wax Booksellers, Booth E9). If you’d like to know what else was in Currer’s library, you’ll have to spend a bit more for a copy of the 1833 second catalogue she issued of her collection ($7,500, Jonathan Hill Rare Books, Booth B15).



Estelle Doheny (1856–1935) built her collection–just under ten thousand books and manuscripts–from scratch. Many of her acquisitions were based on bibliographies such as One Hundred Books Famous in English Literature, by the Grolier Club, the New York City–based society for book collectors. The pace and breadth of her acquisitions eventually justified a private librarian, Lucille Miller, who wrote a three-volume catalogue of the collection between 1940 and 1955. Doheny donated much of her approximately seven thousand books and 1,300 manuscripts to a memorial library in her husband’s name, but it was later sold in a series of sales at Christies between 1987 and 1989. One such item is a nineteenth-century manuscript choir book with borders taken from a medieval illuminated manuscript ($2,300, Sanctuary Books, Booth B2).



Alfred Edward Newton’s famed collection of about ten thousand volumes, was dispersed shortly after his death in 1940. It included a copy of the 1676 Davenant sixth-quarto edition of Hamlet ($75,000, Manhattan Rare Book Company, Booth B20).

4) James Joyce’s copy of Madame Bovary: 


Not all readers are necessarily collectors, and “association copies”—volumes that are signed, inscribed, or annotated—show the ways in which books were held and used. 



A nineteen-year-old James Joyce acquired this edition of Madame Bovary in 1901 and signed it in his juvenile hand ($25,000, Honey and Wax Booksellers, Booth E9). Flaubert would prove a formidable stylistic influence on Joyce’s early work. This copy, which includes transcripts of the Bovary trial, was later picked up in a used bookshop by the Irish critic Ernest Boyd and bears his signature as well.



Joyce’s signature here looks quite different from his later spidery hand you’ll see elsewhere at the fair. Honey and Wax proprietor Heather O’Donnell explains:

Joyce’s early signature is very different from his midcareer “James Joyce” signature, familiar to us from the signed limited Ulysses. Slocum and Cahoon, in their list of volumes from Joyce’s library before 1905, note that he typically signed “Jas. Joyce” or “Jas. A Joyce” during that period. As a very young man, Joyce was given to curlicues like those in the Bovary signature … By 1901–1902, Joyce begins to drop the decorative flourishes, but the lines of the signature remain.


5) Women in the book business:


The cover with the woodblock (left) and without (right).


If Virginia Woolf is a god to you, one way to humanize her is to look closely at the books she printed and bound with her husband, Leonard, at Hogarth Press. They are often just a mess. Katherine Mansfield’s Prelude (1918) was only their second attempt at printing and binding. Mansfield had originally wanted a woodblock stamped on the cover, but after printing the first batch of copies, Woolf decided she did not like it and removed it. The version for sale is sans woodblock. The page header title changes on page 21 from “A Prelude” to “Prelude.” Despite such flaws, common to Hogarth Press productions, this copy holds delights: it is signed on the cover (faintly) and front endpaper (more vibrantly) by Mansfield’s friend, the literary patron Violet Schiff, and it later went into the library of Mansfield’s—and Woolf’s—bibliographer, Jean Kirkpatrick ($8,000, BAS Books Ltd., London).


A more aesthetically inspiring production is this 1550 missal printed by Yolande Bonhomme, the widow of renowned printer Thielman Kerver. After his death in 1522, Yolande carried on their publishing concern for another thirty-odd years. “Her long and flourishing career illustrates the independence of widows in the Parisian book business from the sixteenth century,” notes Flavie Loizon, of Librairie Camille Sourget.



This is still evident three centuries later, as shown in an early-nineteenth-century bookseller’s license made out to a sixty-five-year-old widow named Anne Catherine Siméon Cadennée (Missal: $44,000, Librairie Camille Sourget, Paris, Booth C29. License: $1,200, Leo Cadogan, Booth C26).


6) A letter from Susan B. Anthony:



Letters by Susan B. Anthony are not uncommon, but in this one she is particularly incisive in her call for coeducation. Working on National American Woman Suffrage Association letterhead in 1903, Anthony writes to the Greek scholar E. M. Tomlinson, professor and trustee of the coed Alfred University. She writes:

Alfred was one of the first places that I visited in 1852 and I have watched your institution with a great deal of interest ever since … I do not suppose the question of segregating the sexes has ever been thought of in your college. It is pitiful to see how Chicago University with Dr. Harper [University of Chicago’s first president, William Rainey Harper] at its head is setting an example of segregation. Did you notice that instead of increasing the number of young men of the city and from the East he is 700 short of as many as he ha[d] last year? I should think that would be a lesson to him; but none are so blin[d] as those who will not see, so I suppose he will not charge the lessening of the number of students to his invidious action with regard to women.

Anthony agrees to complete Tomlinson’s set of her four-volume History of Woman Suffrage and also suggests he acquire her two-volume Life and Work: “you ought to have it so every student could find it on your shelves when he comes to the inevitable moment of writing a composition on the question of woman’s rights” ($5,250, Claudia Strauss-Schulson at Schulson Autographs, Booth B17).


7) T. E. Lawrence’s working manuscript of The Seven Pillars of Wisdom:



Also on display is the only surviving working manuscript material of The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Lawrence’s ten-volume memoir of the Arab Revolt. The history of the manuscript is quite complicated. Lawrence famously lost the first draft, which was 250,000 words long, at Reading station. He wrote it out again, from memory, at a length of 400,000 words. That manuscript is now at the Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. From that manuscript, he worked on a polished version of 335,000 words. That handwritten manuscript is now at the Bodleian. In 1922, to protect himself from loss, he had that version typed up, and eight copies were printed. Those are referred to as the Oxford Text, as he had them printed at Oxford Press. He hand-corrected five of them and had them bound. They were essentially private proof copies. Finally, he agreed to prepare the manuscript for publication—in a subscription edition of a hundred copies. He worked from the printed bound copies, editing by hand directly onto them. He destroyed the other volumes with his hand edits but sent this one to D. G. Hogarth, which is how it survived. For sale is volume eight, which he rewrote substantially, effectively making this “heavily annotated proof copy” a working manuscript ($275,000, Maggs Bros. Ltd., London, Booth E2).

In an accompanying letter from the mid 1920s, Lawrence notes that this is “an example of the more drastic revision which some of my sections have had, especially Books VIII and IX.” Those books cover the period between the capture of Jerusalem and then Damascus. He describes his 1922 version as “dull … The final effort didn’t come off very well in print, because I’m not very good at vigorous writing.” Bookseller Ed Maggs notes that “significantly the only paragraph in the whole of Book VIII which bears no revision is that in Chapter 103 (Chapter 94 in the 1926 edition), recounting the deaths of both Daud and Farraj, Lawrence’s young servants.”


8) Margaret Thatcher’s Musings:



In a complimentary notebook from a Concorde flight in the late nineties, Margaret Thatcher jots down Thomas Carlyle’s dictum that “history is the biography of great men” and adds a rejoinder in a strong hand: “and women” ($35,000, Peter Harrington, Booth A8).


Sarah Funke Butler is a literary agent with a specialty in literary archives, and a private curator.